Tall Tales from the Big Fish

Today my Pops would have turned 75. The King of Isabelle Avenue left us far to soon. And while I am wistful on his birthday, I like to remember the man for who he really was. He was a backyard adventurer, a big spender, a mountain man, an ear piercer, and a fabricator of tales of wonder. He could tell you something completely absurd with such conviction – I always worried that the one time I called him on something would be the one time it was all true.

I'm sure your dad probably fought a goat in buckskins on any given Saturday.

Pops was a man for all seasons – even goat fighting season.

In 2003 I received a call from my brother Max. He asked me if I had seen Big Fish yet. I hadn’t even heard of it. He said I needed to see it. A couple of days passed and my nephew called and told me the same thing – I had to go see this movie. They offered no clue as to why, just that I must see it. I made the drive to Fayetteville with a friend and bought a ticket thinking this was just another movie. As I watched the movie I was stunned. At times I laughed so hard that my sides hurt. My friend was puzzled – it was funny, but not that funny. Each scene cracked me up, but I also felt deeply for the son – he lived in the shadow of his father’s larger than life personality. He had known this man his whole life and still had no idea of who he really was. He had decided that none of it was true, that it was all a giant tall tale. I knew exactly where the son was coming from.  I saw my father as a modern-day Peter Pan – telling tall tales while his audience was transfixed, all the while knowing that it was probably all a crock.

These fish tales hit a little close to home...

These fish tales hit a little close to home…

When I was 10 my teacher asked me to write a report that would explain what Watergate was. I, like many kids in class, looked to an adult to help me make sense of the daily news reports. Unfortunately, of all the adults in my life, I asked Pop. He told me a story that more closely resembled a James Bond movie that one of political corruption. I paraphrased what he had told me believing it was fact, and was rewarded with my first and only “D”. A note at the bottom of my report admonished me to “Check your facts!!” Clearly, Pops was not the best clearing house for the procurement of actual facts.

Tricky Dick or Ian Fleming?

Tricky Dick or Ian Fleming?

Sometimes his “facts” were better than the real ones and his delivery made his fabrications seem so real. It was hard to doubt him. That day in 5th grade I came to understand that it was all baloney – his remix of truth and fiction was designed solely for his own entertainment. In retrospect even Watergate makes me smile – his version actually made a lot more sense.

Here are a few of Pops’ most memorable whoppers:

The first Corvette was not fiberglass, it was made from stainless steel. The costs were too high to manufacture so they had to go with fiberglass. Serious collectors still look for those rare steel prototypes.

Looks like plastic to me...

Looks like plastic to me…

As a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps, Pops was on a transport ship where he encountered an Admiral who told him to put out his cigarette. He dropped the cigarette and crushed it with the toe of his shoe. Then he took the Admirals hat and threw it in the Atlantic Ocean. He was sent to the brig and got out of work for the duration of the trip.

Adrift on the high seas?

Adrift on the high seas?

There are morse code signals being sent out through the Television. You can also hear it in the background when the car radio is on. Sometimes Pop would tell you that we were hearing secret messages meant for the Nevada Test Site while watching the Rockford Files. This one may actually be true.

If you listen very closely and drink a few Buds you might here the dash-dot-dash of a secret message...

If you listen very closely and drink a few Buds you might hear the dash-dot-dash of a secret message…

He and his friends once kidnapped Elvis from a casino and made him play a concert in the parking lot of Las Vegas High School. Elvis was flattered and happy to oblige.

Sure Kid, I would love to put on a concert for you in a parking lot!

Sure Kid, I would love to put on a concert for you in a parking lot!

He was pursued by a princess while he was stationed in the Philippines. She was a beautiful woman who was rich beyond belief.

Unlike the movie, Pops was courted by just one princess who was not a Siamese twin...

Unlike the movie, Pops was courted by just one princess who was not a Siamese twin…

While stationed in Okinawa he was living in a barracks with his platoon. The guy on the bunk above him had terrible gas. One night pops and his buddies waited for the gaseous one to fall asleep and lit matches and held them close to his boxers waiting for an eruption. When he finally did pass gas it lit up like a flame thrower. The gaseous one never even woke up during the spectacle.

Pops at Home on Leave

Is this the face of a marine who would light his comrades boxers on fire? If this story were true wouldn’t barracks all over the world be blowing up just from the volume of methane?

He once played chess with Bobby Fisher on a Lear Jet and beat him. Specifically, he said that he lasted over 21 moves – to last longer than a dozen was technically a draw. At 22 moves Bobby would tip his King over and concede.

I actually read about a real contest where Bobby Fisher played 50 people at once, I wonder if there is a grain of truth to this tall tale?

I actually read about a real contest where Bobby Fisher played 50 people at once, I wonder if there is a grain of truth to this tall tale?

He was discharged from the Marine Corps after wrecking 13 Jeeps (Something about 13 wrecks seems to be a constant in his life story) They wanted to give him a dishonorable discharge for drunkenness but he threatened to re-enlist if they didn’t give him an honorable one.

A Jeep is one tough vehicle, unless you let Pop drive it...

A Jeep is one tough vehicle, unless you let Pop drive it…

When his parents were away for a weekend he chopped, dropped, and channeled the family sedan – a 49 Chevy.

Here's that Chevy in 1957 after my Pop decided to "customize" it while his folks were out of town.

Here’s that Chevy in 1957 after my Pop decided to “customize” it while his folks were out of town.

He and a buddy also took a pool liner and completely lined the inside of his parents’ convertible with is so that they could fill the car with water and drive it down Fremont Street like a mobile swimming pool. I wonder if this is what they were driving when they encountered Elvis?

Cruising this in a swimming pool makes you extra cool...

Cruising this in a swimming pool makes you extra cool…

After he left the Marines he became a police officer in North Las Vegas, he didn’t serve very long. He had 13 wrecks (again with the 13?) and was fired for shooting the Chief of Police’s cat with a pellet gun.

Did he get fired for wrecking too many of these or for harassing a cat?

Did he get fired for wrecking too many of these or for harassing a cat?

I didn’t learn the traditional lessons from Pop that most kids learn from their fathers about hard work and clean living, but I did learn some very important things. I learned that every story is important and probably bigger than it looks at the time. I learned the importance of having a good mechanic. I learned how much fun gunfire can be in inappropriate places. I learned to always keep a supply of Phillips screwdrivers handy. I learned that even someone’s flaws can be endearing at times. I learned about how important it is to really let someone off the hook. I learned that love is not a straight line – it’s a delightfully crooked path. I learned all of that and more from my Pop, the King of Isabelle Avenue.

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A Celebration of Familial Facial Hair

I come from a long line of ancestors with prodigious facial hair. I don’t have any myself with the exception of my out-of-control eyebrows. Seriously, I could have them waxed on Tuesday, pluck them on Wednesday, and need to wax them again on Thursday – but this is not about me or my eyebrows. It’s about a long heritage of facial hair, mostly on men, and our celebration of this heritage as a family.

Let’s start at the beginning of the age of photography.

My Great Great Great Grandfather, Travis Elias Cox was the forefather of many impressive beards and mustaches. His beard is the earliest one photographed in my collection. This photo dates from the 1850s.

My Great Great Great Grandfather, Travis Elias Cox was the forefather of many impressive beards and mustaches. His beard is the earliest one photographed in my collection. This photo dates from the 1850s.

This is my Great Great Great Grandfather, Munson Hollister. While he may have lacked an actual first name, but he grew an impressive beard.

This is my Great Great Great Grandfather, Munson Hollister. While he may have lacked an actual first name, but he grew an impressive beard. As a plus, he appears to have had excellent penmanship. It looks like I may have inherited those pesky eyebrows from Munson as well

The Gentleman in the center front is my Great Great Grandfather, Martin Luther Eyler. He had several daughters that he married off to men with mustaches. Oddly enough my Great Grandpa Carter is the lone clean shaven man in this photo.

The Gentleman in the center front is my Great Great Grandfather, Martin Luther Eyler. He had several daughters that he married off to men with mustaches. Oddly enough my Great Grandpa Carter is the lone clean-shaven man in this photo. I assume his beard was just to wonderful to look upon – I’m sure he did not want to upstage these lovely ladies.

My Great Great Grandfather - John Sidney Cox, son of Travis Elias Cox may have suffered from male pattern baldness, but you cannot deny that his beard was epic in this daguerotype.

My Great Great Grandfather – John Sidney Cox, son of Travis Elias Cox may have suffered from male pattern baldness, but you cannot deny that his beard was epic in this daguerreotype.

A suit, tie, and shotgun compliment my Great Grandpa Goodson's substantial Mustache

A suit, tie, and shotgun – all complement my Great Grandpa Goodson’s substantial Mustache

My mom's father, my Grandaddy Smith was never seen without his slim and stylish 'stache.

My mom’s father, my Grandaddy Smith was never seen without his slim and stylish ‘stache.

My Grandpa Carter and my Great Uncle Newton Cox show off their beard growing prowess in honor of Helldorado Days in the 1950s.

My Great Uncle Newt (left) and my Grandpa Carter (right) show off their beard-growing prowess in honor of Helldorado Days in the 1950s. I never saw this beard in person, Grandpa was always clean-shaven – I think the sheer power in that beard was too much for the world to handle.

My father wore a full beard for almost 20 years. A lot of men get a sports car when they hit 40 - pops got a teepee and grew a neck beard.

My father – the King of Isabelle Avenue – wore a full beard for almost 20 years. A lot of men get a sports car when they hit 40 – Pops got a teepee and grew a neck beard. The whiskers started about an inch below his eyeballs and stopped somewhere on his toes. His beard was so thick that he once hid a small parrot in it. It was the king of all Carter beards – a beard without rival.

Of course, my brothers are no exception – they are fine examples of hirsuteness.

My brother Max began wearing facial hair at about 7 years of age. Always a slave to fashion, this look required at least 45 minutes of blow drying each morning to perfect in the only bathroom in our childhood home.

My brother Max began wearing facial hair at about 7 years of age. Always a slave to fashion, this look required at least 45 minutes of blow drying each morning to perfect in the only bathroom in our childhood home.

My brother Ron's mustache came of age during the Miami Vice era.

Mullet styled and ready for prom, my brother Ron’s mustache clearly came of age during the Miami Vice era.

Mustaches are not only for men in the Carter Clan - a few rarely blessed members of the feminine persuasion have been known to sport a handlebar or fumanchu. Avery is especially prodigious showing off this perfect handlebar at the tender age of three months.

Mustaches are not only for men in the Carter Clan – a few rarely blessed members of the feminine persuasion have been known to sport a handlebar or fumanchu. Avery Lynn is especially prodigious showing off her perfect handlebar at the tender age of three months. Clearly she takes after her mommy.

As I was saying earlier – my Pop had an amazing beard, a rich beard, one without rival, that is until now…

Tommy prepares for his big day by blowing smoke into the sky and creating storm clouds - such is the power of his beard.

This is my nephew Tommy. His beard borders on perfection. It is so perfect that recently friends and family from all across the country gathered to spend a day reveling in his beard of wonder. As is our custom when a man’s beard comes to fruition, invitations were sent, arrangements made, and a ceremony planned to commemorate this life event.  Tommy prepares for his big day by blowing smoke into the sky and creating storm clouds – such is the power of his beard.

The big day arrives, family comes in from all over the country. Tommy prepares:

Before the ceremony Tommy takes some time to console his younger cousin who has yet to grow a mustache.

Before the ceremony Tommy takes some time to console his younger cousin who has yet to grow a mustache. Hang in there Steven, you’ll be shaving in no time.

Before the ceremony the young bearded men share a smoke and some aged bourbon.

Before the ceremony the young bearded men share a smoke and some aged bourbon. This is Tommy’s younger brother Brian – he doesn’t usually drink beer, but when he does it’s Dos Equis.

Brother's in Beards - so happy to celebrate Tommy's perfect beard!

Brother’s in Beards – so happy to celebrate Tommy’s perfect beard! Brian and Mike – Tommy’s bearded younger and older brothers.

Here Brian and Mike are attacked by Richard - clearly he is jealous of their beards

Here Brian and Mike are attacked by Richard – clearly he is jealous of their beards.

A line of muschioed and bearded men forms outside the ceremony - Max's fumanchu can hide a frisky side.

A line of mustachioed and bearded men forms outside the ceremony – Max’s fumanchu can hide a frisky side.

Each of the bearded attendants was escorted by a lovely lady in a purple dress and flowers - her job was to walk him up the aisle and then stepped aside so that family and friends could admire the fullness of his facial hair.

Each of the bearded attendants was escorted by a lovely lady in a purple dress and flowers – her job was to walk him up the aisle and then stepped aside so that family and friends could admire the fullness of his facial hair.

Brian's beard is presented to family and friends

Brian’s beard is presented to family and friends

This was the "best man" they could find without facial hair.

This was the “best man” they could find without facial hair. We all felt sorry for him.

This pastor followed Tommy into the ceremony - he was there to bless the beard. You can tell by the smile on Tommy's face that he is thrilled to have such a perfect beard.

This pastor followed Tommy into the ceremony – he was there to bless the beard. You can tell by the smile on Tommy’s face that he is thrilled to have such a perfect beard.

Karen put on a sparkly dress and filled her head with about a hundred bobby pins for the honor of walking her mustachioed man up the aisle to view the blessing.

Karen put on a sparkly dress and filled her head with about a hundred bobby pins for the honor of walking her mustachioed man up the aisle to view the blessing.

Shanda gazes up at that perfect beard

Tommy’s fiance Shanda dressed up like an angel and walked up the aisle – see how she gazes up at that perfect beard.

To cap of this day of joy Shanda gets to kiss the beard!

To cap of this day of joy Shanda gets to kiss the beard!

Apparently Shanda nearly ruined the day by getting lipstick on that perfect beard - whew! Crisis averted!

Apparently Shanda nearly ruined the day by getting lipstick on that perfect beard – whew! Crisis averted!

Tommy and Shanda celebrate the achievement of a beard so perfect that it makes Ben Affleck jealous.

Tommy and Shanda celebrate the achievement of a beard so perfect that it makes Ben Affleck jealous.

Shanda is so overwhelmed by the power of Tommy's beard that she is forced to look away.

Shanda is so overwhelmed by the power of Tommy’s beard that she is forced to look away.

Have no doubt about the power of a perfect beard. Not only can it produce storm clouds - rainbows line up to greet it!

Have no doubt about the power of a perfect beard. Not only can it produce storm clouds – rainbows line up to greet it!

I over heard Shanda telling someone that her answer to Tommy's question - she said, "I didn't say 'Yes' - I said, 'fuck yes!'" I'm pretty sure the question was "Do you like my beard?"

I over heard Shanda telling someone her answer to a question that Tommy asked her. She said, “I didn’t say ‘Yes’ – I said, ‘fuck yes!'” I’m pretty sure the question was “Do you like my beard?”

Shanda just can't resist that amazing beard - look, she brought it flowers

Shanda just can’t resist that amazing beard – look, she brought it flowers

Now that the ceremony is over Shanda can hardly wait to snuggle up to that beard!

Now that the ceremony is over Shanda can hardly wait to snuggle up to that beard!

Behold the Beard!

Behold the Beard! The beard is seated at a place of honor.

Lucky Shanda - she gets the first dance with Tommy's Beard!

Lucky Shanda – she gets the first dance with Tommy’s Beard!

Ron's beard is an interesting shape. It's long in the front and short on the sides, kinda like a backwards mullet

This is my brother Ron after the ceremony. Ron’s beard is an interesting shape. It’s long in the front and short on the sides, kinda like a backwards mullet.

The subterfuge is dropped. Ron is Kahl Drogo, dressed up in a western shirt holding a clean shaven Avery.

The subterfuge is dropped. Ron is Kahl Drogo, dressed up in a western shirt holding a clean-shaven Avery.

Ronnie's alter ego?

Ronnie’s alter ego?

This is not Daenerys Targaryen - this is Mindy. Daenerys and Ron broke up ages ago. Poor Daenerys, sheonly gets to play with dragons.

This is not Daenerys Targaryen – this is Mindy. Daenerys and Ron broke up ages ago. Poor Daenerys, she only gets to play with dragons.

A beard this perfect deserves it's own cake to mark the celebration!

A beard this perfect deserves its own cake to mark the celebration!

At the end of the night, young Brian shows the spoils of the evening. It was his promising beard that helped him to nab the prize.

At the end of the night, young Brian shows the spoils of the evening. It was his promising beard that helped him to nab the prize.

Max relaxes knowing that another generation is ready to carry on this hirsuit heritage

Max relaxes knowing that another generation is ready to carry on his hirsute heritage.

Tommy, Shanda, and Tommy's Beard stare off into the sunset - a perfect future ahead.

Tommy, Shanda, and Tommy’s Beard stare off into the sunset – a perfect future ahead.

OK – I’m just kidding.

Congrats to Tommy and Shanda on their big day. It was practically perfect in every way and a rainbow did show up right after they got hitched. I like to think it was sent by the King of Isabelle Avenue as a gift to Tommy and his lovely bride Shanda on their wedding day.

Love you both,

Aunt Lorri (The one without a mustache)